Germany's foreign minister has called for continued investigation into the shadowy neo-Nazi terrorist group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which killed nine immigrants between 2000 and 2007.
"It's a disgrace for us that right-wing extremists could continue their killing spree for such a long time," Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter yesterday, on the seventh anniversary of the exposure of the killers on Nov. 4, 2011.
The Social Democrat politician admitted the mistakes by the police and intelligence, which had repeatedly ruled out a racist motive behind the murders, and instead treated migrant families as suspects. "The investigations into this case must continue. It remains our duty to stand against far-right hatred anytime and anywhere," he stressed.
The NSU killed eight Turkish immigrants, one Greek citizen and a German police officer between 2000 and 2007, but the murders had long remained unresolved.
The German public first learned of the group's existence and its role in the murders in 2011 when two members - Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Bohnhardt - died after an unsuccessful bank robbery. The group's only surviving member Beate Zschaepe was given a life sentence in July, but families of the victims expressed disappointment with the verdict and said the five-year-long trial has left many key questions unanswered. Lawyers representing the families disputed the claim that the NSU was only an "isolated cell" of three far-right extremists, and demanded a deeper investigation into their possible ties to a wider network of far-right extremists in Germany.
Since the late 1990s, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, or BfV, recruited various informants from the right wing who were believed to have had contacts with the trio. Officials insisted they had no prior information about the existence of the NSU terror cell and its role behind the killings. However, the central German state of Hesse's decision to keep several documents secret for 120 years prompted further speculations about the NSU's possible ties.
Onur Özata, one of the lawyers for the victims of the NSU, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that although the trial ended, the matter is not settled yet. "We are closely watching how subsequent investigations will proceed," he said.
Özata pointed out that investigations focused on many people accused of aiding and abetting the gang and these people were not part of the concluded trial. He said there were important questions awaiting answers in the case regarding the state's role in the NSU's crimes.
"For instance, we are still in the dark about how much the intelligence service knew about the NSU and how deeply intelligence officials were involved with the gang," Özata said. He stressed that racism remained a serious problem in Germany, pointing to the rise in votes for a far-right party and racist violence in the town of Chemnitz. "Germany should do its homework to fight against racism. The state is not efficient enough in intervening in racist rallies," Özata said.
Ayşe Demir, spokeswoman for the Berlin-Brandenburg Turkish Community, noted that Chancellor Angela Merkel had pledged that the NSU's crimes would be thoroughly investigated. "The responsibility of officials in this string of crimes has not been illuminated yet. The decision by the state of Hesse to keep documents secret for 120 years added more doubts to the case," she said.
Demir said secrecy measures gave a message to people "not to try in vain to shed light on the matter," adding that there was a need to establish an independent committee to investigate links between far-right terrorism and German intelligence services.